Fishing means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Fishing means a path to healing for many veterans nationwide thanks to Project Healing Waters.
A group of three veterans and Project Healing Waters Regional Director John Bass will give demonstrations on fly tying and basic fly fishing at the Mount Airy Fly Fishing Expo on Oct. 20. The event is hosted by The Womens League of Mount Airy at Riverside Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On the surface, Healing Waters provides, at no cost, basic fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and rod building classes are offered to any disabled military person regardless of prior experience with the sport. According to Bass, powerful processes of healing for vets are what’s going on behind the scenes.
“It’s incredible what we are able to do when we introduce people to fly fishing,” said Bass. “These young men come to us beat up physically and mentally. Not all will stay with fly fishing but while they are with us it helps them.” Bass is himself a quadriplegic after breaking his neck in a pool diving accident.
Bass remembers a special operations soldier, Seamus McDermott, who had done four tours of duty in Afghanistan and also fought in Iraq. The soldier’s index finger was shot off in a fire fight. He was recommended to the program to show improvement before being allowed to re-qualify for active duty on the rifle range.
“He became a really good fly fisherman,” commented Bass. “He did a lot of good things with us. I tell them not to tell me what they can’t do. Tell me what you can do. Usually we can solve 80 percent of the problem between us right there.”
Bass also recalled how a long-time fishing buddy, veteran Billy Davis, came to Healing Waters to fish with one of the worst cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he had seen. Davis’ reaction to any sound became almost incapacitating at the beginning of the program. Now he successfully teaches fly fishing to other vets. Davis is a veteran from Beckley, W.Va., and will be with the group at the October expo.
Bass also recalled the beginnings of one of his favorite fly fishing students, Josh Williams, who also will be with the group at the Mount Airy Expo. Williams joined the army after high school and was an infantry automatic rifleman and squad leader deployed to Iraq. After returning to Fort Hood, Texas, a car pulled in front of his motorcycle. Among other injuries, Williams lost his right arm.
Healing waters was the start of Williams developing a passion for the sport and he even has his own company, Dead Drift Flies. The firm sells flies he ties himself. Williams and his wife, Lisa, have a daughter, Emma Jo.
Bass is steadfast on where the attention on the program must remain.
“It’s hard for any vet to say they can’t. Saying they don’t want to is another thing,” said Bass. “It’s the veterans who are the heroes. I get the greatest feeling in the world when I can get to help. If you aren’t able to help someone who sacrificed for this country then who can you help. You get more than you put in when you do this.”
Alan Folger, who also helps develop programs for Healing Waters, also will accompany the expo group. Bass said Folger is also an artist and veteran will also participate at the expo and will bring some of his art work to exhibit. Folger is from Hendersonville.
Bass said the womens league approached the Healing Waters group about being a part of the expo. The anglers had heard of clean up efforts along the Ararat River and had already fished in waters from Abingdon, Va., to Bluefield, W.Va., so they were delighted to see what the local waters will have to offer them.
“We look forward to meeting people. We hear there is a strong Veterans of Foreign Wars group there and we want to show what Project Healing Waters can do and hear their stories,” added Bass.
The long-term, ongoing camaraderie and socialization of Healing Waters is one of the healing forces propelling the effort.
“They are all good people,” Bass said of Healing Waters participants. “When you get involved with this organization you learn it’s a big family. By helping other people we help ourselves.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.